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Open-source maps twin nature-nurture data

This video shows the spACE visualization program in action. It performs statistical and visual analysis of data from twins to explore the variation in genetic and environmental influences across the UK. Image courtesy TEDS, King's College, London.

A first-of-its-kind open-source visual map by researchers at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry shows how nature and nature influences on human characteristics may depend on where you live. This research was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

You may have heard that human behavior is a balance between nature – our genes - and nurture – the environment. But, a UK-based Twins Early Development Study highlights this may not be the case. Researchers from King’s College Twins Early Development Study at the MRC Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre looked at 13,000 pairs of twins, both identical and non-identical, who were born between 1994 and 1996.

When 6,759 of these twin pairs were 12 years old, the researchers carried out a wide range of tests to assess their behavioural traits including hyperactivity, geographic environments, cognitive abilities like language and reading skills, and academic achievements such as mathematics and IQ scores.

This data analysis was created into an environmental and genetic hotspot chart of the UK called a nature-nurture map. The researchers used spACE, an open-source geo-visualisation application to create a color-coded map of genetic and environment variation over a geographic area. The software is available under the open GPL3 on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux systems.

Some interesting results have surfaced. They found, for most of the UK, about 60% of the difference in traits such as classroom behavioral problems can be attributed to genes. But, in South East London, environment plays a more important role than genes. Genes explain less than 50% of the variation. Researchers found that income inequality may account for some of this pattern.

Oliver Davis is a Wellcome Trust researcher on the study. "The message that these maps really drive home is that your genes aren't your destiny," he said to the Wellcome Trust. "There are plenty of things that can affect how your particular human genome expresses itself, and one of those things is where you grow up."

More details on the study can be found in the research paper here.

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